Ky's job is to organize all the video Alvin takes during a dive. He works through the night to get the scientists the footage they need. "They need video to document everything important that happens," he says. "Every probe that gets inserted as well as the temperature probed, every trap that's laid, and sips that are taken from a smoker."
For the scientists, it's vital to know exactly where things happen and what the conditions are where they take place. All the factors must be accounted for, and the video makes that possible.
"Plus we like pretty pictures to show when we give talks," Ian McDonald adds.
Dave Sims, the ship-to-science support group technician for Atlantis, makes duplicates of Alvin's videotapes and passes them to Ky by about 9 p.m.
"The originals are put away in the vault," says Ky. "I take the dupes and make VHS and DVD versions of all six tapes."
It takes more than six hours. Ky goes to bed and sleeps until noon. Then he gets hold of the Dive Plan for the dive he's working on and carefully selects the sections of the tapes to capture for highlighted events, using FinalCut Pro, a software program.
"They're all on a hard drive now," Ky says. "But soon they will go on DVDs and the Internet and go their own way."
Eighteen years old, Ky is traveling and working for a while between high school in New Zealand and college. He is the youngest member of our team. (Eighteen is the youngest age allowed.) We don't have any college students who are undergraduates, but there are several grad students including Michelle Phillips, who's returning to shore after this trip to continue her studies and to teach marine biology. Here, she's collecting Pompeii worms to study how they deal with high temperatures at a molecular level.
Michelle is the starboard observer in Alvin today, traveling along with biologist Barbara Campbell and Pilot Tony Tarantino. They'll be taking today's "Phone Call to the Deep" from the Extreme 2004 students by way of the bridge on Atlantis.
The "Phone Call to the Deep" comes to Dr. Craig Cary at Atlantis's Toplab and is sent down to the sub. Mike and I were there to see how things worked. Pilot Bruce Strickrott was at the controls, sending the communications between the ship and the sub. Also on hand were Captain George Silva and Alvin Technician and Pilot-in-Training Mark Spear, who were each going to field a question. Toplab is a small room with windows that have one of the best views on Atlantis. (As on the bridge, the windows have windshield wipers like the ones on 18-wheeler trucks -- very cool.)
As each question came for Atlantis, the person who planned to answer moved into position to take the phone. With questions for Alvin, things were a little more complicated. Bruce had to greet the school on the Toplab phone, then open the communication channel to allow the caller's voice to travel to the sub.
Atlantis talks to Alvin via the UQC, which Tony said is the nickname for the underwater telephone communication system. Its not a radio, because radio waves can't pass through water, the UQC is acoustic, using sound. Acoustic waves are similar to radio waves, but they travel at a different frequency. How different? "You can hear them," Tony explains.
Here's a question for you: There's a delay between transmissions sent and received. The rate at which sound travels through water is 1,500 meters per second. If Alvin is 2,500 meters down, how long is the delay?
Down in the sub, Tony, Barbara, and Michelle listened as each student asked his or her school's question. Then, when the student asking the question said "Over," it was the sub's turn to answer. Tony would switch on the UQC and either answer the question himself or turn things over to Barbara or Michelle to answer.
Barbara said, "I answered questions about whether the bottom of the ocean could be colonized by humans, about what's it like at the bottom of the ocean, and about the life cycle of the Pompeii worm."
One of her questions was posed by students at the New York school where her sister teaches. She liked the idea of talking to a student who might have been in her sister's class. I wondered what other ideas Barbara would have liked to share with students, besides her answers. "I would want to say that it's totally unlike anything you would imagine it to be. The experience of being down there -- there's just nothing, then the pilot turns on the lights, and there's this whole living ecosystem down there!"
Part of the feeling of nothingness before reaching the bottom comes, Barbara says, from the way it feels as Alvin descends. "It's so smooth. As soon as you drop below 30 meters, it's totally weightless. You feel no movement. It gets dark at about 500 meters, and you start to see glowing, bioluminescent things passing by the window." She says you're going to fast to see them, though. Alvin descends at 30 meters per minute.
Barbara described fish, bioluminescent creatures that appeared as glimmers of light on the way down. Then, at the bottom, there are fish, sea anemones, and starfish. "Michelle saw two different kinds of octopuses," she says. "But they were on her side!"
She goes on, "I sat in the pilot seat for a little while. It was nice to sit there and observe Alvinellas, (Alvinella
pompejana, the Pompeii worm.) It was so different from seeing them on video."